How Jason Haugen founded Haugen RV Group
After graduating high school in Utah, I completed one semester of college before joining a network marketing company where I learned a lot about business. I loved it—I had a big team and ended up doing a lot of speaking engagements. Then the company started hurting, and I could see the writing on the wall.
The company wasn’t doing well, and I knew it because I was on the board. When I was still in the network marketing company, I partnered up with one of my best friends who was in construction. I worked for him on the side doing business consulting.
All of a sudden, the network marketing company I worked for was sold, and though my entire team stayed, my income nosedived to zero. Before I stepped away from network marketing for good, I ended up working in my best friend’s cabinet shop, building cabinets in the middle of the night just so I could keep making my mortgage payments.
I worked for the networking marketing company from 2013 to 2019, and during this time, I went from earning six figures to absolutely nothing—that was a really hard time in my life. I didn’t know what was going on with the networking marketing company, and then it got sold again to another company, which became a huge nightmare.
In the back of my mind, I was thinking, “This is broken, and I don’t want to do this anymore.” Every time I’d go on stage, I felt like I was lying to people, and then there I was, working in the middle of the night, trying to keep my house. I wasn’t broke, but my attitude was, “I’m not going to tap into my savings; I’m going to keep on working.” It wasn’t a “poor me.” I began building cabinets because I had to start somewhere, but later I was helping crews install them. Then I got into designing cabinets and, eventually, kitchens. I got pretty deep into this cabinet company.
Eventually, I decided to leave the network marketing industry altogether. I had some money put away, and I wanted to do something different, which for me, meant going bigger with the construction company. I went into construction 100 percent.
Buying a failing RV dealership
The construction company started to take off. We were having a good time, and finally, I wasn’t working in a cabinet shop anymore. One day, I was with my father doing some fun things, and he got a phone call from one of his buddies who he had purchased a trailer from years prior. He said to my dad, “Hey, you don’t know this, but we left three or four years ago and opened our own RV dealership in Salt Lake City, where we’re going out of business. We’d really like for you to come in and buy us and do the whole thing.”
My dad said he wasn’t really interested, but maybe he could invest a little bit of money. After all, he was retired and didn’t want to deal with anything like this. Then my dad said to the man on the phone, “My son and I have been looking for a project to do together—maybe my son would want to invest, and we’d own it together.” My dad and I looked into the opportunity and went in together. Once we signed the papers, I immediately started learning everything I possibly could about the RV dealership.
I started as a salesperson to learn the sales end of the business, the biggest side of the company. My dad was at the dealership for a few months helping me, and then he exited the company in the summer of 2018. Meanwhile, I took it over and grew it from one dealership to eight dealerships in three different states. We went from $12 million in revenue with only 20 employees to over $100 million per year with a little under 200 employees. We’re strong financially and culturally. We’ve been able to scale it, and we’ll continue to scale it.
"I don’t like to be that bat out of hell who says, “It’s my way or the highway.” Instead, I prefer to do things collaboratively. On my podcast, I say, “Your business is not a pyramid. It’s a round table,"
A rocky start
Haugen RV Group is a well-oiled machine today, but it wasn’t always that way. When we bought the dealership, we kept about 99 percent of the people, but it wasn’t running smoothly at all. The thing I learned to do really well in the network marketing industry was to build teams and culture. I even have a podcast called “Culture Camp,” where I speak all over the country about culture because I’m really passionate about it. I know how to dissect teams and personalities, put people together, and motivate everybody to accomplish our goals and objectives.
When we bought the dealership, I went in very tactfully because I was very young at the time—like 24 years old—and all of these people had been in the industry for 20 years. I went in as a salesperson to gain the trust of everybody and show them that I could do what I was going to tell them to do. I wasn’t the greatest salesperson because I just love talking to people, and I’m more on the operations side of everything—that’s my personality. That’s not my current role now, but that’s more of who I am.
We went in to build teams. We started a book club and got people to read books and listen to motivational things and worked on building the culture. During the process, we discovered the company was in a lot worse shape than we thought financially. The dealership never made a lot of money, and we were deep in the hole when we found out. At this point, my goal was just to crack a profit, which was $20,000 the first year, because we had to dig ourselves out of an astronomical hole.
A dealership nightmare became my passion
While that was going on, I learned a lot about inventory management. Because everything was new, we had no idea what we were doing, and if we had known how hard it was to start an RV dealership, my dad and I never would have bit this off. That’s kind of why he left when he did. Meanwhile, I fell in love with it and got obsessed with the business.
To turn the business around, I had to flip the culture and the mindset to, “We really can make money, it’s not just giving everything away for free.” We had to start systems and processes, and it was a slow go because my way of doing things is usually a bit slower. I like people to buy into me and trust me.
I don’t like to be that bat out of hell who says, “It’s my way or the highway.” Instead, I prefer to do things collaboratively. On my podcast, I say, “Your business is not a pyramid. It’s a round table,” because I like to use a mastermind-type approach to things and get everybody together in a room and say, “Hey, what is the best situation for the company to go to?” We did that with all the managers, who had never been included in anything before.
We kept duplicating that process, and the managers asked us, “Are we making money? Are we not making money? Why did we sell?” and we were honest with everybody about what was going on. We had financial meetings with all the managers, and we brought them up to speed on the situation. In 2019, we made a bigger profit, but it wasn’t crazy. In 2020, we made 10 times what we made in 2019 and 2020.
"There's no reason to reinvent the wheel—just make the wheel better if you can, and ask people along the way and seek advice."
Making the best decision ever…during a global pandemic
In 2020, we bought more dealerships—two at the same time in February 2020, then boom, Covid hits. Now, we had an issue, and we didn’t know how the pandemic was going to impact business. I called my father, a well-respected entrepreneur who has owned over 40 businesses, and said, “Man, I need some advice.” He was like, “What’s going on?” I said, “Tell me about bankruptcy,” and he said, “You’re already going bankrupt?”
I shot back with, “No, I don’t know how bankruptcy works. What if I filed for bankruptcy with the company? What would happen?” He told me what would happen, and I said, “Okay if I had $5 million in inventory or $25 million in inventory, what would happen?” And he’s like, “I don’t know, it’s pretty much just a digit whether you claim bankruptcy on $5 million or $25 million—just more creditors or fewer creditors. It’s pretty much the same thing.”
I hung up the phone. The next call I made, I ordered $25 million worth of inventory—that was in February 2020. When everybody was letting go of their orders, I was buying everybody’s orders. I was putting inventory in every nook and cranny and piece of property that I had anywhere in the state of Utah just to store it. It was the single best decision I ever made and made us a lot of money.
I just got a letter from a manufacturer that thanks us for what we’ve done for him. The manufacturer was 100 percent making trailers just for us, and they stayed in business because of us, and they don’t forget that. We were able to get all of these units, then boom, it’s the middle of March 2020. Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz tested positive for Covid, and the NBA shut down. I thought, “If the NBA is shutting down, everything is shutting down.”
I had called my dad about bankruptcy a couple of months earlier, and in the middle of April, everything in the RV industry turned on like a firehose. Everybody started buying, but no dealerships had any inventory. I had it all. They all came to us. Salt Lake City got hit kind of hard with a lot of restrictions, but I have dealerships in Logan and Helper, Utah, which are very rural towns that never shut down. They just kept on going, and so that’s where everybody went to buy RVs—out in these rural towns and via two strategically-placed dealerships that did phenomenally well.
In 2021, we ended up buying five locations. In 2022, we bought another one, so now we’re at eight locations in all. To this day, my dealership in Helper, Utah, sells a lot out-of-state, and during the pandemic, we were selling all around the country. We were shipping every day, freighting trailers outside of our locations because a lot of California was shut down, but they wanted to go camping.
We were shipping trailers to California—it was an operation that came together, and we made it work. I had people working seven days a week around the clock. That meant a lot because, at the end of the day, they’re all working for my last name. It means so much that we built this incredible culture, and they’ll do anything for each other.
What I’ve learned through the journey of building Haugen RV Group is the importance of loving your people. Don’t look at them like a replaceable body because they can feel that. If you think of them as replaceable, like you don’t care about them, then why would they care about you? Look at them like real people in real families working for you and working for their family to better their family. I don’t believe anybody is working to make their situation worse.
Being unkind to them doesn’t make the situation any better. We really work on that in our company, and I have these culture cards—little cards that everybody has on their person at all times—that have our core values and mission statement on it.
In addition to being a caring boss, ask a lot of questions and find a mentor who knows more than you. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or ask for help. The dumbest thing you can do is be afraid to ask questions. If you have too much pride and a big ego, you end up costing yourself a lot of money down the road because someone could have just told you, “Hey, don’t do that,” or, “Do it this way.” There’s no reason to reinvent the wheel—just make the wheel better if you can, and ask people along the way and seek advice.
I always believe the most important thing for general entrepreneurship is to reset when something’s not working. My mom always used to tell me, “Plan, do, check, and adjust.” You plan it, do it, check it, adjust it, and sometimes, you just need a complete reset.
Sometimes, I’ll get my team in and do a reset for an entire day and say, “Okay, we’re going to reset. Do we need to change this?” Just pause for a little, and take a company health check. See what’s going on, and reset a couple of departments. What can we do to reset some mindset, reset some culture, and what can we do for each individual? How are we serving our people? I always say my number one job is to serve the people and set them up for success.